As Israelis prepare to celebrate their 66th independence day this week, Palestinians will again mark the day in counter-point, commemorating what they call the Nakba, the “catastrophe.”
In recent years, the day has turned violent, with Palestinians from outside of Israel marching on the Jewish borders of the Jewish state.
Wajih Seman was 11 years old in 1948, when his village of Suhmata, about 15 miles northeast of Acre, was destroyed by an Israeli army brigade. Sixteen people were killed, and most of the other 1,100, including his mother, were expelled to Syria or Lebanon.
Most of Seman’s family was among the minority who stayed in Israel and became Israeli citizens. Seman grew up in Fasuta, an Arab village near the Lebanese border. But for the past 66 years, he has continued to dream of going home.
“We had a large house in Suhmata and I want to return,” he told The Media Line. “My house was destroyed. Whoever destroyed it should rebuild it.”
Seman formed a website called “Abnaa’ Suhmata,” the sons of Suhmata, documenting the history of the village with photographs and other material. But most Arab villages have very little documentation.
A new app now provides information about all of the 400 Palestinian villages which were destroyed in the fighting in 1948. Palestinians claim that as many as 700,000 Arabs either fled or were forced to leave what became Israel. Some, like Seman, became Israeli citizens. Others fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The new app, produced by Zochrot, an Israeli organization, is meant to help the refugees maintain their connections to their villages.
“If you are a refugee in the Ein El-Helweh camp in Lebanon and you want to know about your village, you can follow and each time someone adds a comment it goes directly to your inbox,” Ghaneen Jeries, Media Director for Zochrot and the coordinator of iNakba project told The Media Line.
Jeries said the maps uploaded into the app come from British mandatory sources. There are also YouTube clips and photos. She said the idea for the app grew out of Zochrot’s activities to advocate for the right of return, meaning the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in present-day Israel.
Many Israelis argue that because of the numbers involved, allowing the return of Arab refugees would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state, and that the proper address for returning refugees is the future state of Palestine. But Zochrot believes that justice will only be served when all refugees can return to their original homes or be given compensation.
The app is being released as the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks has ended without any progress, and press reports say that the Obama administration is blaming Israel for its failure. In any case, the talks were about an Israeli withdrawal from most of the land that Israel acquired in 1967, not from 1948.
In recent years, commemorations of the Nakba have become a hot-button issue in Israel. Several members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, have advanced legislation to making any such observance illegal. In 2011, 12 protestors were killed when Palestinians and their supporters tried to enter the Golan Heights, which Israel acquired from Syria in 1967 and later annexed.
But for many Palestinian citizens of Israel, like Seman, the app is a way to connect to their history.
Seman said that as a teenager he worked in construction, before joining the Communist Party. He was sent to the Czech Republic to study and returned with a masters degree in political science. Today he lives in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Haifa.
“We don’t hate Israelis; we hate the Israeli government’s policy,” he said. “We can live together but only if there is justice.”
Article written by Linda Gradstein
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line